Here in Oldham we’re proud as a community to have signed the Armed Forces Covenant where we pledge to do our bit to support and honour those who are serving our country.
We work hard to ensure that those who stepped forward to fight for us are given the support and respect that they deserve.
But in the year that has already seen us mark the 70-year anniversary of VE Day, I am conscious that there’s a danger that the huge impact of any battle or struggle on our society is forgotten, or at best diluted with each passing generation.
That’s a consideration when we talk about the great post war housing boom, for example, or the creation of the National Health Service and the development of the Welfare State: all of which were borne from a common need and a belief in making things better.
Unless you’ve personally served in the armed forces or have a relative or close friend who has spoken of their experiences the truth is that most of us will go about our normal lives blissfully unaware of the day-to-day fight against those who seek to destroy society as we know it.
But on the same weekend as Armed Forces Day this year the horrific events that began unfolding on our TV screens from Tunisia, France and Kuwait brought this reality home again.
It was particularly sickening and frightening to watch as the death toll continued to rise in Sousse and individual stories about the victims began emerging from what is the biggest terrorist attack on British people since the bombings of July 7, 2005.
The fight that continues around the world against ISIS may seem distant and not relevant to some. As we are a free society many will perhaps also challenge and question why Britain gets involved in matters which seem disconnected from our national interest.
Looking back a few years it also felt very much like there was a time we didn’t feel publicly comfortable in thanking our armed forces. Perhaps we didn’t want to mirror the intense nationalism seen in places like America, or perhaps it just wasn’t very British to talk about these things.
Whatever the case, I’m pleased we do now show our thanks and appreciation to those who are no longer with us, and those who continue to put themselves forward to protect us.
The battle currently being played out across the media undoubtedly focuses on a narrative about the West versus extreme Islamic terrorists, but I don’t see it like that.
I see good and bad. I see politics and power battles being played out under the cover of religion combined with a divide-and-rule propaganda.
We’ve seen people in our own country radicalised and we’ve also seen non-Muslims turning on an entire religion as a whole community is unfairly held to blame for the actions of others.
In a community as mixed as Oldham with a large Muslim population I have the benefit of seeing how religion and tradition can be used in a positive way. I get to see the strength of family units, for example, the value of education and the immense fundraising that takes place to help those in need.
During our reflections last year on the Centenary of the outbreak of the First World War I heard stories of Indian and Pakistani servicemen fighting for our (then) King and country, some never to return home as they made the ultimate sacrifice – and you can read these at the fantastic Oldham Remembers website.
They fought side by side with British soldiers to stop the advance of the Nazis. They didn’t fight for hatred, they fought against it and it is important that in this new fight we are very clear that we remember that.
Finally this week, I must say a huge congratulations to Oldham branch of the Royal British Legion volunteer fundraisers who have managed to collect £95,126.91 (if I missed off the penny, I wouldn’t be forgiven!).
Our air cadets also won the Lord Lieutenant’s award for the most amount of money collected – including the 2200 (Oldham) Squadron based on Wellyhole Street who alone raised £15,014.30.
Added to the money raised through other local branches at Chadderton, Shaw and Lees our borough has raised a total of £133,000 – which is a truly tremendous effort. Well done to all concerned.
Thanks for listening,